Claire Darcy, Contributing Writer
As the curtain of a theater rises, a fast-talking salesman attempts to sell the owner of a beauty salon a way to make her hair dryers more efficient — by preventing her female clientele from exercising thought.
“El Eterno Femenino,” which translates to “The Eternal Feminine,” is a filmed play that dissects stereotypes of feminine social behavior. The production, which was produced under the 2020-21 VCUarts Undergraduate Research Grant, involves 22 VCU students and graduates, including a seven-person cast.
“This play is essentially about being a fem being in the world and how, essentially, effeminate people are perceived by the patriarchy, society, everything,” said VCU theater performance alumna Celeste Taica. “It’s all of these experiences bottled up into one thing.”
Directed by VCU alum Drewe Goldstein, “El Eterno Femenino” tells the story of the soon-to-be-wed Lupita, played by Taica, as she visits a beauty salon on her wedding day. The trip to the salon prompts a series of dreams of what her future holds while she sits under the hair dryer.
“‘El Eterno Femenino’ is a dream play that explores femininity in a truly abstract way,” Goldstein said. “It demands that we look at femininity and fem bodies through hyper-abstract situations to really understand at our core what those realistic situations look like.”
To spark conversation on the themes, the play employs farce comedy, often painting scenarios as absurd and dramatic. Goldstein said they chose to direct the play in a comedic fashion to make the content more palatable.
“In laughing at these really realistic, terrible situations, we are able to allow the audience to consume it and allow them to think about it further,” Goldstein said.
The three-act play was originally written in 1975 by Mexican poet and author Rosario Castellanos, a significant figure in Mexican feminist literature during the 20th century. Luci Harris, a senior student who applied for the grant, said the play still has social relevance.
“This play was written in the 1970s but I feel like a lot of the themes still carry over to today and the issues we’re still dealing with,” Harris said.
Harris, an international studies and Spanish double major, said she came across the play while trying to find a piece that combines theater, politics and feminism.
“I like to do a lot of research about the intersection of politics and theater in Latin America and the impact that theater can have on politics and spreading a political message,” Harris said.
Harris said the grant application encouraged interdisciplinary arts projects. In addition to theatre, the play contains elements of Spanish, international studies and gender studies.
To apply for the grant, Harris said she and her team had to outline a plan, which included a detailed budget, an explanation of the significance of the project, who would benefit from it and the COVID-19 precautions they would implement.
The $3,000 grant was used to fund components of the play, such as props and costumes. It was also used to rent the space at Firehouse Theatre, where the play was filmed. The play is available to stream online on weekends from April 23 to May 2. Tickets are sold on the project’s website.
“Even though it may have been an option to have a couple people come to the theater, we felt that filming it would make it so that more people could see it and it was just so much safer,” Harris said.
Taica said this was the first production she worked on since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very important for me that this play especially reached an audience of women of color … but unfortunately not that many people were able to audition,” Taica said. “Once that was clarified, I was able to feel more comfortable stepping into the role.”
“El Eterno Femenino” contains universal themes that resonate with effeminate individuals, Taica said. It tackles the notion of the “perfect woman” through exploration of concepts such as virginity and what it means to be a good wife and mother.
“There are all these societal ideals placed onto women that they have to be pious but still appealing to the eye,” Taica said. “They have to be smart, but not too smart; they have to love having children, but motherhood will destroy you.”
While “El Eterno Femenino” was written in Spanish, this adaptation was primarily performed in English. The second scene, a dialogue between Lupita and her husband Juan, remained in Spanish.
The high-energy scene occurs during the night after their wedding, in which Juan, played by senior theater performance major Will Cardozo, details Lupita’s duties as a wife. When Juan asks Lupita if this is her “first time,” she breaks the fourth wall, speaking to the audience to proclaim in outrage that all men ask the same questions before resuming a more calm, collected persona to address her husband.
“This play hosts universal themes for every effeminate person,” Taica said. “It’s just important to see something like this and to understand that these experiences are not exclusive, and you are not alone.”
“El Eterno Femenino” will be available for streaming at select times through May 2. Tickets are available on the project’s website.